Japan baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani makes history - he joins LA Dodgers in richest contract in the history of North American sport

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws during a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Anaheim, Calif., June 21, 2023. Ohtani agreed Saturday, Dec. 9, to a record US$700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers. - AP

LOS ANGELES (AFP): Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani confirmed on Saturday he is joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in a record-shattering 10-year, US$700 million (RM3.625 billion) deal -- the richest contract in the history of North American sport.

After weeks of frenzied speculation over where the 29-year-old Los Angeles Angels two-way ace would land in free agency, Ohtani announced on Instagram he had opted for his former club's cross-town rivals.

"To all the fans and everyone involved in the baseball world, I apologize for taking so long to come to a decision," Ohtani wrote on Instagram. "I have decided to choose the Dodgers as my next team.

"I pledge to always do what's best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself.

"Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward not only for the Dodgers but for the baseball world," Ohtani added.

Ohtani's agent Nez Balelo said in a statement the deal would be worth $700 million over 10 years, a historic figure that smashed the previous record baseball contract as well as bettering the largest deals ever agreed in the NFL and NBA.

Balelo described Ohtani's mammoth payday as a "unique historic contract, for a unique historic player."

"Shohei is thrilled to be a part of the Dodgers organization," Balelo said. "He is excited to begin this partnership."

The previous largest contract awarded in baseball was the 12-year, $426.5 million extension handed to Ohtani's Angels team-mate Mike Trout in 2019.

Until Ohtani's deal, the largest contract in any sport in North America belonged to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who agreed a 10-year, $450 million extension in 2020.

Mahomes was among several US sports stars to react to news of Ohtani's gargantuan payday.

"Bro like what!...Congrats to him," the NFL star wrote on social media.

Cleveland NBA star Donovan Mitchell chimed in: "$700 million is crazy!! And he deserves every penny of that too."

Ohtani has taken Major League Baseball by storm since landing in the league in 2018, with his almost unheard of combination of elite pitching and hitting prowess earning him comparisons to Babe Ruth.

- Making history -

Although his talents were not enough to help spark a revival in the Angels' fortunes - the team failed to make the playoffs following his arrival - Ohtani nevertheless dazzled in a flagging franchise.

He has twice been named American League Most Valuable Player, in 2021 and 2023, on both occasions winning by unanimous vote - the only player in history to achieve that distinction.

Although elbow injuries have cut short his pitching appearances - he missed the final month of the 2023 campaign with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow - this season was his most successful to date.

As a designated hitter, Ohtani led the AL in home runs with 44, in on-base percentage (.412), slugging percentage (.654) and total bases (325).

He hit 26 doubles and eight triples with 20 stolen bases and 95 runs-batted-in. He hit over .300 for the first time in his six-year major league career.

In 23 pitching starts he went 10-5 with a 3.14 earned-run-average and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings.

He had the lowest batting average against (.184) among all AL pitchers with at least 130 innings.

It marked Ohtani's second straight season with at least 10 wins on the mound and 10 home runs at the plate.

The only other player to accomplish that feat was New York Yankees legend Ruth back in 1918.

Although revered as a dual threat, Ohtani will not pitch in 2024 to help his arm recover but will still be able to hit.

Even though he will be absent from the mound next season, his offensive talents and future pitching potential proved irresistible to the Dodgers.

Ohtani's departure from the Angels had become inevitable as the franchise struggled for relevance during the Japanese star's six seasons with the club.

In that time the Angels failed to reach the postseason or even register a winning season.

But while Ohtani was frustrated in his pursuit of success with the Angels, he was the driving force behind Japan's victory in the World Baseball Classic in March.

He helped close out a fairytale 3-2 victory for Japan over the United States in the final of the showpiece in Miami, striking out Angels teammate and US captain Mike Trout to clinch his country's third WBC victory following triumphs in 2006 and 2009.

As well as being a standout on the field, Ohtani has also been a one-man commercial juggernaut off the field. He reportedly made a one-season MLB record $65 million in salary and endorsements these season, making him the highest paid player in baseball.

He also had the best-selling jersey of any Major League Baseball player this season -- the first time a Japanese player topped the list. - AFP

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